“The moment you set foot in that country, you step into high danger.”
A conundrum for you to ponder on this, the first day of 2017.Can a flawed masterpiece actually exist? Can a film that is of a supreme status yet isn’t perfect still be labelled as a type of masterpiece? If it can than ‘Silence’, my first cinema outing of the new year and of a film of seminal standard of incredible quality, surely fits the title of ‘flawed masterpiece’.
It isn’t perfect. The pacing slackens throughout the film to such an extent it becomes an almost tortuous watch. Several sequences are so unrelenting in their brutality that they almost lose meaning. It has a running time of 161 minutes. And yet. This film has a magnetic quality, a certain something that is almost undefinable, that ascribes it a status beyond most big screen fare. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before yet words seem unable to allow me to truly explain why.
There’s the incredible story that is overwhelmingly potent with emotion and spirituality – enlightening in unexpected and unconscious ways. There’s Andrew Garfield’s masterful leading man performance (the film was preceded by this trailer for Hacksaw Ridge – 2017 could very well be the year of Garfield) which is a raw powerhouse of a performance. There’s the brief practically cameo-esque appearance by Ciarán Hinds for whom I have a huge soft spot. Or perhaps it’s the story and the way Scorsese tells it.
I’m not sure I can define what the films takeaway message is, but then I’m not sure I need to. Good film. Great film. Masterpiece film creates a feeling – a transformative feeling that captivates and sustains. ‘Silence’ does that completely. This is being billed as an intense watch and that’s something of an understatement. It has an edge that builds throughout the film to almost unbearable levels as we watch the innate endurance of human nature and belief being tested to frequently shocking levels.
However, for a film with so much brutality – both physical and emotional – there is a stillness at its centre. A film could not consider masterpiece status if it was all darkness, all edge and power. There are moments of quiet light – of silence and contemplation – that conquer the darkest shadows. Less a film to be watched, rather one that needs to be experienced.
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Year: 2016 Run time:161 minutes
Michael’s Moore’s most optimistic documentary yet.
The tone of ‘Where To Invade Next’ means that in many ways it stands out against Moore’s previous documentaries. Instead of his typical approach of ‘Here’s what America does wrong!’ and ‘Here’s how America is awful compared to these countries!’ there’s a slight shift. Instead of the glass half-empty approach, ‘Look at how badly these things are done!’ he takes for the first in his career a glass half-full approach,’ Look at how good things could be!’ The result is no less powerful than his previous films and arguably by adding ‘hope’ to his vernacular he will inspire and motivate. Furthermore, the timing of its UK release (about two weeks before the referendum over whether to stay in Europe, aka. Brexit), provides much food for thought.
Under the (false) pretense that the government has asked him to advise them on ‘Where To Invade Next’ Michael Moore then’invades’ and travels around three continents to find what they are doing well and which ideas they could steal to use in America. These include:
- Italy: labor rights and workers’ well-being
- France: school meals and sex education
- Finland: education policy
- Slovenia: debt-free/tuition-free higher education
- Germany: labor rights and work–life balance
- Portugal: drug policy, and the abolition of the death penalty
- Norway: prison system
- Tunisia: Women’s rights
- Iceland: women in power and the financial crisis criminal investigation
By taking the form of a travelogue – instead of being goal-oriented (Roger & Me), a rage-driven societal critique (Bowling for Columbine) or to investigate inequalities within America (Sicko) – this feels like a fresh and revitalised Moore. One who is looking forward to solutions rather than expose the crimes. Arguably one of the main criticism against Moore and his documentaries is his over-simplifying of certain elements. It would be easy to argue that yes one of the above countries does do ‘X’ rather well, but have you seen how badly the issue over ‘Y’ is?!? But that’s not what this documentary is about. Yes Moore does still utilizes the comparison between his and other nations for effect (allocated holiday, school meals, taxes and criminality are stand-out) but his true purpose here is to look for other ideas. Instead of attacking the present he looks forward to the future and how things could be done.
I’ve seen a few critiques about this film and how this different approach shows that ‘Moore has gone soft.’ No. As any teacher (secondary school teacher working in the East End writing here) will tell you, when one approach doesn’t work you have to try others. If you constantly shout at a class they will soon be able to metaphorically put you on mute and tune you out. By trying out the rose-tinted glasses and using a more positive approach he may just retain more of our attention spans.
This does lead me on quite nicely to my personal stand-out part of the documentary: its mediation on the nature of education. I will admit that prior to this I knew nothing of France and its school meals system, nor of Finland and its education policy, but if what Moore explains is truly reflective of those respective nations – I really think here in the UK we have a lot to learn. I did cry during these sequences. I found numerous tears rolling down my cheeks when I saw the meals being offered to the children of these schools in France then compared them to those I’ve seen offered (as both student and teacher) at schools here. I cried when I heard the teachers of Finland talking about how school is about student personal development – not tests, grades or levels. I cried when I saw such happy children without the worry or concern I’ve come across as both student or teacher. You could argue that this was manipulation or simplification. Maybe.
But then again there’s a reason Moore didn’t visit the United Kingdom in this documentary. There’s a reason he didn’t recognise the UK as doing one of the above things particularly well. And, just maybe, that after seeing this you will see a reason that we shouldn’t leave when we’ve still got so much to learn.